The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It performs many functions that keep our bodies running properly. Liver damage poses a huge threat to your health and longevity. Prevention is key should liver damage occur. For this reason, knowing the signs is extremely important for getting your liver health back on track as quickly as possible.
What Is The Liver and What Does It Do?
The liver is the largest internal organ in your body. It’s located in the upper right-hand side of your abdomen, just below your diaphragm. It plays a critical role in carrying out thousands of functions. It converts nutrients from food into energy and stores vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients for later use. The liver also helps to form bile which helps break down fats. (1)
In addition to these functions, the liver is also responsible for removing toxins from the body through digestion and excretion. When it becomes overloaded with toxins or damaged by disease, it can no longer perform its vital functions effectively and will begin to show signs of damage.
What are some common causes of liver damage?
The most common cause of liver damage is alcohol abuse, leading to fatty liver disease (hepatic steatosis). Fatty liver disease occurs when excess fat builds up in the cells of the liver which causes inflammation and scarring over time. Other common causes include (2):
- Hepatitis A (infectious)
- Hepatitis B Virus (infectious)
- Hepatitis C Virus (bloodborne)
- Autoimmune Conditions (inflammation)
- Trauma (e.g. car accident)
- Toxins (e.g., alcohol, other drugs, chemicals)
- Metabolic Disorders (e.g. diabetes)
- Viral Infections (e.g. Epstein Barr Virus, HIV/AIDS)
Most often, liver damage leading to liver disease and failure happens gradually over time. Knowing the signs and symptoms is important so that you can take action as quickly as possible. The earlier you do so, the better your outcome will be.
Read: 9 Foods That Support Liver Function
Early Signs Of Liver Damage
As already mentioned, liver disease doesn’t typically happen overnight. There are some earlier, though less specific, symptoms to watch out for. In addition, having your liver enzymes checked via a blood test once a year is a good idea. (3)
Discomfort/Dull Pain in the Abdomen
You may feel a dull pain in your abdomen, which is usually on the right side. It’s not always there, though, so if you’re feeling any abdominal pain, it’s important to see your healthcare provider right away.
Fatigue is another common symptom of liver disease. It’s not just a side effect of being tired; it’s also a sign that your body isn’t able to do what it needs to do properly. You might feel like you have no energy and need more sleep than usual, or you may feel generally weak and lethargic at all times.
Many things can cause nausea or vomiting, but if one or both are happening to you on a regular basis, this could be an early sign of liver damage too. If you’re experiencing either of these symptoms, seeing your healthcare provider is a good idea.
Loss of Appetite
Sometimes when the liver is damaged by disease or injury, it can affect your appetite. If you’ve noticed that you aren’t feeling hungry as often or as much as usual, this could be an early sign of liver damage.
Unexplained Weight Loss
If you’ve noticed weight loss that isn’t due to dieting or exercise, this could be a sign of liver damage. The liver is responsible for metabolizing fat, so your body will have trouble processing and storing fat if it’s not doing its job properly. This could lead to weight loss.
If not taken care of early, liver disease can progress quite quickly. Later stages of liver damage have other symptoms. These include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Edema (swelling) in the ankles, feet, and legs
- Itching all over your body, especially at night
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Deep, dull pain in the right upper abdomen
- Dark-colored urine and pale stools (bowel movements)
- Confusion, lack of coordination, and difficulty walking
If you have any of these symptoms, go to the emergency room right away. They are a sign that your liver is failing.
How To Prevent Liver Damage
It’s important to know the signs of liver damage and get treatment as soon as possible. But there are also steps you can take to prevent liver disease from developing in the first place. Here are some ways to protect your liver health:
- Exercise regularly—you don’t have to be an athlete; even mild exercise like walking a few times per week will help keep your liver healthy.
- Avoid alcohol consumption, particularly if you have a history of liver disease or heavy drinking.
- Stop smoking, which is not only unhealthy but also puts you at a higher risk for many liver diseases.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B—these are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States.
- Get tested for hepatitis C, a virus that can cause chronic liver disease and liver cancer.
- Be careful with over-the-counter pain medications. Many pain medications contain acetaminophen, which is a type of drug called an analgesic. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if taken in high doses or for long periods of time. It’s important to follow the instructions on your medication and avoid taking more than one dose at a time.
The Bottom Line
Your health is in your own hands, always. Do your best to live a healthy lifestyle. If you can, know your family disease history and what you might be more genetically predisposed to. Talk to your healthcare practitioner when you notice something that doesn’t seem right.
Keep Reading: How Does Vitamin A Toxicity Impact The Liver
- “What are the early signs of liver damage from alcohol?” Healthline. Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D. March 27, 2023.
- “Liver disease.” Mayo Clinic
- “What are the signs of liver damage?” Medical News Today. Jenna Fletcher. January 31, 2023.